Clinical psychologist Jeannine Owen says she didn't mean to become an expert on flirting, but helping shy people led her to teaching the fine points of the romantic art.

"I had helped several of my patients who were shy or had difficulty meeting opposite sex partners learn to flirt a little, then I was asked to give a speech about it," said Owen, whose private practice is with the Institute of Psychological Services.Then she started getting calls from universities such as Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, which invited her to give a workshop on "The Fine Art of Flirting."

"There are certain people who never get dates," she said. "Or if they do go out on a date they don't get asked again by the same person. Or they don't know how to ask someone for a date. I remember one patient in particular who was having a terrible time - he just couldn't flirt."

Part of Owen's workshop deals with the idea that it is "okay to flirt." Many people think it's a knowledge they don't have, others are just uncomfortable doing it because they don't do it well, she said.

"I tell them they can learn to flirt by practicing. The first thing I tell them to do is go where other people are. Some people just don't go out. Part of it is getting out and seeing people who want to meet other people. You have to look for opportunities.

"The other thing I teach them is that there are two kinds of flirting - one is non-verbal. It's eye contact and smiling. I'll demonstrate it and have my patients practice.

"The other is verbal, managing to make conversation more personal rather than talking about the weather or how the Dallas Cowboys are doing. Instead they need to make personal comments about the person they're speaking to."

She suggests a step in the direction of flirting is telling someone they have a nice smile or that they have a nice laugh. She said people should seek outeach other's common interests.

"In the workshops, we practice talking personally."

Owen has done four flirting workshops in the past six months.

"I see a lot of single and divorced people who are looking to find or meet people they might be compatible with. It's a problem for a number of people. Though many people know plenty about it, there's a significant minority out there who don't know how to get people to take an interest in them. These few people feel very inhibited."

She said the workshops last less then two hours, adequate for an introduction to the subject but not enough time for the in-depth flirting dialogue she has with her patients. She does, however, talk some about using clothing and makeup to make the opposite sex take notice.

"In clothing matters, I suggest a more sensual look. There was a time when I looked in my closet and found all these white cotton blouses with little girl's Peter Pan collars.

"When shopping, I started looking for sexy, smooth, soft things. Also, a lot of people don't even try to get things to match. Some people just consider themselves hopeless.

"There are people who need to polish up their skills, but are generally healthy and then there are those who sit at home and never go out. They need psychological help. But they always come to me for a different reason, usually because they are generally unhappy and lonely. We'll get around to this issue eventually. They just need help."